Terriers are Just Different!

This message refers to a Smooth Fox Terrier, but much of what this experienced dog trainer has to say applies to Airedale Terrier puppies.

The message was originally posted to the Aggressive Behaviors in Dogs list on Yahoo and is published here with permission. This message is the property of the writer, and it may not be copied without express written consent.

I thought there might be some lurkers who could get something out of a discussion on what is & isn’t considered abnormal aggression in a puppy. To some extent I think this varies with breed/type, which is why some are just not recommended as “beginner” dogs. I suspect many terriers fit into that category.

I brought my Smooth Fox Terrier home at 49 days, she is now 15 weeks yesterday. She is an out-going, bold, fearless, sweet, friendly, good natured puppy, but I noticed differences in her from the start (I’ve had sight & scent hounds, sporting, herding, working & non-sporting breeds, this is my first terrier).

She seemed to have an intensity or attitude about her. By the way, she is from good breeding with a lovely tempered mother.

When Scandal plays I noticed she SNARLS menacingly, but it is obviously just play. I personally do choose to play tug with her because I think it is a fun interactive dog/person game & I’m** able to control it. I think it helps our relationship, teaches her control & gives her a healthy outlet. She will follow a sit or down command or give the rope up for a cookie.

(**children should not engage in tug, nor should adults who are uncomfortable/unable to control the game or dogs with other issues)

She loves to play real rough all by herself, chasing a 2 liter soda bottle around, stradling it (replicates mounting I’m sure), barking, growling &snarling “viciously.” I personally find it cute & harmless, but I can see where a novice home would panic & think they had a dangerous dog!! In my opinion she is learning to play appropriately with toys/objects as opposed to terrorizing dogs.

She does play with my 11 year old Golden, when she gets too mouthy the session is ended by me because the golden will not stop her.

She is learning to play in a different way with my 7 year old Malamute. Once in a while he initiates a game of chase in the backyard… is THAT ever a cute picture- 5 lb. dog chasing 110 lb. dog, both “growling” they’re both vocal, it means nothing)!:-)

The hardest thing Scandal is learning is that she cannot play at all with my 7 year old Border collie/Aussie mix. Both are rewarded intermittently just for being around each other either ignoring each other or brief interactions.

All 3 of my big dogs have very different tolerance levels & the pup isn’t very good at respecting them yet, so IMO it is MY responsibility to keep everyone happy & safe. I’m using total structure & supervision & separation via crates, pens, yard, house, leash on my waist, etc. I’m confident that it will eventually get easier.:-)

Scandal also appears to have a little “temper”… early on I started teaching her not to walk in the washroom. I opened the door, put my hand in front of her & told her to “wait” there (there’s a step down, so it’s an obvious threshold). She began bouncing straight up & down, barking & snarling as if she were angry at my daring to tell her what to do. I can only compare it to a temper tantrum & it was hard not to laugh! I admire the drive, enthusiasm & passion, but *I* know how to work WITH it & not turn it into a problem. I can imagine many disasters in novice homes… from escalating aggression through correction to taking things too seriously/out of context. Not that tolerance thresholds should not be taken seriously & worked on in a positive manner! She is learning to accept all handling, nail trimming, restraint, etc. Scandal is the mouthiest puppy I’ve ever raised & has a hard bite, though it’s improved 90+%. When I first brought her home she was completely unresponsive to ANY interruption/redirection, whereas now that our relationship has developed she “remembers” to stop mouthing with a verbal “ack” reminder & loves praise for licking/not mouthing. I’ve used a combination of toy stuffing (remove arm from puppy’s mouth & insert toy), removal of attention & Bitter Apple sprayed on shoes, pantlegs etc. with no verbalization except praise.

Training her is quite a kick too, as she is my first tiny dog… I’ve begun to accustom her to a halti (size 0) & a solid lead (dowel with clip on end to save your back from so much bending). She has started classes in a safe environment where loose stray dogs are not an issue, as I feel it is important to socialize before shots are finished. She has had the opportunity to meet a variety of humans, canines & other species (cats, birds, etc.) at relatives/friends houses & has responded favorably to everyone. She is learning to pay attention to me at training class & that she can’t/doesn’t need to meet all dogs.

Feel free to ask questions or give me a direction to expand on this. I’m thoroughly enjoying this opportunity to learn from my little terror. She will be my obedience, agility, earthdog. Sometimes I think there is a fine line between aggression & normal behavior & in the wrong hands it can easily turn the wrong way.


Mary Swinyer
Modar Dog Training
San Mateo, CA

Copyright 2001 by Mary Swinyer
Article printed with permission of the author. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission of the author is prohibited.